Negotiations break down, pilots begin strike |

Negotiations break down, pilots begin strike

The Associated Press

HEBRON, Ky. (AP) – Comair pilots went out on strike early Monday after talks for a new contract with the regional airline broke off.

The airline, which also flies under the name Delta Connection, canceled most of its flights scheduled for Monday in preparation for the strike.

Comair spokeswoman Meghan Glynn said negotiators were told by union leaders Sunday that they were unable to compromise on the major issues.

The cancelation involves flights scheduled from 6 a.m. through 6 p.m. Monday – about 750 of the airline’s 815 daily departures in a system that serves about 25,000 passengers daily.

Comair said it was trying to provide customers with alternative transportation on its parent, Delta Air Lines, or other airlines.

”We are disappointed that the union leadership had decided to cease negotiations,” Comair President Randy Rademacher said in a statement. ”We believe it is in the best interest of everyone involved to get back to the table quickly and to continue talking.”

Rademacher had gone to Washington on Saturday to join talks with federal mediators and negotiators for Comair and the union.

Comair’s 1,350 pilots say they want a company-funded retirement plan, more rest time between flights, higher pay and the right to be paid for all hours they are on the job, not just actual flying hours.

A contract offer that pilots rejected Monday would have given the pilots a company-funded retirement program, extended last year to Comair’s other employees. It also would have increased the pay of top-scale pilots from $66,000 to $96,000.

But only about 40 Comair pilots who have at least 18 years of experience would have been eligible for that top pay, union leaders have said. There are about 420 pilots with two years of experience or less paid less than $30,000 annually, he said.

Comair, based at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, serves more than 8 million passengers annually. It has flights to 95 cities in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. Comair was founded in 1977. It is the first strike by the company’s pilots, union officials said.

About 200 to 300 pilots and their family members began gathering about 7 p.m. Sunday near the Cincinnati-area airport.

Paula Goschke, whose husband, Kent, is a Comair pilot, said she was a little nervous. ”I think everyone I talk to, including wives, is nervous, but we are committed to holding firm for what’s right,” she said.

Goschke’s 15-year-old daughter, Michelle, also admitted some nervousness. ”I’m sort of scared, but now my dad is not home much. If they get the right kind of contract, he would be home, and that’s important.”

Crowds supporting the pilots began cheering, clapping and whistling, shortly after 12:01 a.m. Monday at the airport.

Many of the pilots, some in street clothes and some in their captains’ uniforms, wore red and white stickers reading, ”I will strike” on their lapels.

They were all gathered at a hotel at the airport, and within minutes, groups of pilots headed over to set up picket lines in the opening stretch of the strike.

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